Coffee can’t fix unhealthy sleeping patterns.
When you spend your night tossing and turning, you probably wake up rather bleary eyed, a tad cantankerous and tired. It sets your mood for the day. You find that you are snappish and unable to concentrate much on anything at hand. If this pattern of being under slept continues, it can have rather catastrophic effects on our physical and mental well-being. Apart from moodiness and being unproductive, functioning in a state of chronic exhaustion can fuel anxiety and culminate in depression as well.
Why can’t most of us sleep at night?
For most of us, it’s a one word answer. Stress.
There’s always something on our minds. It could be looming work deadlines, a fight with our loved ones or making a mistake that we think cannot be fixed. We ruminate over the same thoughts repeatedly, till we can’t sleep anymore.
“People underestimate the effects of stress on the body,” says Shefali Verma, a Dubai-based integrative medical doctor, biohacker and educator. “When we get stressed, the cortisol hormone rises,” she says. These high levels of hormones don’t allow a person to wind down. As a result, people find it difficult to fall asleep and lie awake. “They’re unable to switch off,” says Verma. Many try to finish tasks at night, thinking that they will use the ‘extra’ time, not realising that they are tired. As they are unable to concentrate and focus, this is counter-productive and escalates anxiety further.
This anxiety can also affect the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, according to the medical site National Sleep Foundation. This is the phase during sleep, where you have vivid dreams. However, if a person is perpetually anxious, they might have nightmares that can awaken them. Owing to these nightmares, some people are further afraid of falling asleep. It becomes a vicious cycle, as sleep deprivation heightens anxiety further and more sleeplessness. You get trapped in this cycle of sleep problems and crippling anxiety.
Moreover, people tend to change their nutritional habits under stress, explains Verma. They resort to carbohydrates and sugar for comfort, which stimulates the body, instead of relaxing it before sleep. The ups and down of the sugar levels keep them up. This affects the quality of sleep.
So if you’re tired of being tired and want to fix your sleep hygiene, here is what experts say:
People tend to change their nutritional habits under stress. They resort to carbohydrates and sugar for comfort, which affects the balance of blood sugar. The ups and down of the sugar levels keep them up. This affects the quality of sleep.
Fix your routine
For starters, get a routine. “The body likes routine. So it is important to sleep at the same time, in order to create the right hygiene,” explains Verma. “You need 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.” Being consistent is conducive to your body’s sleep-wake cycle. This trains your body to feel tired at a fixed bedtime. Schedule a bed-time for yourself, set an alarm, if you need to. These routines can help your brain differentiate between day and night, and work to rid your body of stress.
Respect the bedroom
Suzanne Roynon, UK-based interiors therapy and Feng-Shui expert says that one needs to understand that. Take a careful look around your bedroom and assess everything within it. “Start by de-cluttering to immediately relieve pressure on space and allow more positive energy to circulate,” she explains. This isn’t about minimalism she clarifies; it’s about being mindful about what’s in your room. Remove anything that harms your well-being. In the words of Japanese organizational expert Marie Kondo, does it spark joy? If it doesn’t, well, it can be discarded.
Remember, your body associates the bed with rest and comfort. By eating food, watching films on your laptop, and using your phone, you are changing that association and stimulating your mind instead of relaxing it. This affects your sleep hygiene.
Creating a comfortable environment
Light, heat and noise tend to disrupt your sleep patterns. Strive to make your bedroom a tech-free zone, advises Roynon. Put away or switch off your phones, and it is best to not keep your laptop on the bed, as these are sources of blue light that stimulate our brains and make us feel alert. The continued exposure to this blue light affects the circadian rhythm, which is the internal body clock, elevating the body temperature and heart-rate. It suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness. So, strive to turn off the sources of blue light as night approaches and make it a routine.
“Use blackout curtains or blinds to maximise the level of darkness. Consider a silk eye mask which both blocks light and protects the delicate skin around the eyes from rubbing or dryness, which can cause fine lines and wrinkles,” she says. If there is noise in the neighbourhood, use earplugs to block out the noise.
Soothing art décor and visual triggers
It’s crucial for the mind and body to be relaxed, in order to sleep. Roynon suggests reviewing the wall art and décor in your room. “Images of water can encourage tears and roller-coaster emotions, whilst fiery colours may result in angry outbursts,” she says. Lots of grey can possibly be bleak and rather overwhelming and may result in depressive episodes and underlying anxiety. “Carefully consider the subject matter and ask yourself whether it reflects the lifestyle you choose for yourself,” she adds. Look at the photos you keep in your room. What memories do they trigger in you? If it is unpleasant and if you have just not had the time to put away such unwelcome photos, then it’s best to do so.
Images of water can encourage tears and roller-coaster emotions, whilst fiery colours may result in angry outbursts. Lots of grey can possibly be bleak and rather overwhelming and may result in depressive episodes and underlying anxiety. Carefully consider the subject matter and ask yourself whether it reflects the lifestyle you choose for yourself
Having a hot shower before bed
Another suggestion is to have a hot shower, before going to bed. The change in temperature prepares the body to sleep, says Verma. According to the American medical site, The Sleep Foundation, just before bedtime, our body temperature naturally cools, while skin temperatures of the hands and feet increase. Scientists theorise that immersing the body in warm water aids this natural temperature regulation process, improving sleep as a result.
Fix your diet and eating schedules
In theory, life sounds ideal when you watch Netflix and binge in bed, right before you sleep. Reality is a little different.
Avoid eating red meat in the evening, advises Verma. As your digestion tends to slow down when you sleep, eating a heavy meal like steaks can lead to an uncomfortable sleep as your stomach is full. Food items that are high in saturated fat also impact your sleeping habits. White meat is a better option as it is easier to digest. Keep your coffee shots to the morning hours, as caffeine is known to keep you awake and stimulated. Eat light, avoid carbohydrates and sugars, which just keep you awake and energised. Spicy foods are not advisable either, as they can also cause heartburn and lead to disruptions in your sleep.
Be careful of what you watch at night
Yes, Criminal Minds and the like is exciting, but think about what you want to watch before you sleep. “Avoid watching criminal dramas at night as it can energise you,” says Verma. “When people are anxious, they search for anxiety-driven shows,” she explains. Try to watch something that is more comforting and relaxing.
Meditation and calming audio
Practise breathing exercises before you sleep, says Verma. “It calms your heart rate. Controlling your breath is a powerful tool, and helps in reducing stress,” she says. She also advises listening to calming audios, that are available on many sleep apps. You can fall asleep while listening to the sounds of rain, which induces relaxed sleep.